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Garden Canyon, Ft Huachuca

scheelite-canyon-descent.jpgSome of the nicest hiking and birding in the Sierra Vista area can be done in the canyons beyond Ft Huachuca. Although Ft Huachuca is an active military base, US citizens can enter and get a temporary car permit to access the hiking trails behind the base. That’s what we decided to do today.

Not many people seem to do this, at least at this time of year, and since it was a weekday, we had the lovely Garden Canyon to ourselves. There’s a pair of well-documented spotted owls living there, but today we had no luck spotting birds.

The hike we chose from the canyon is called Scheelite Canyon Trail, and it is very steep. Over about 0.8 miles we climbed a considerable amount, although I’m not sure how much. Much of the trail was as steep as climbing stairs. Birding tours rate this hike as one of the most difficult, and we were doing it with a 5-year old and a 7-year old, both of which did very well.

scheelite-canyon-gecko.jpgEven though we saw few birds (and no owls), we did see some other interesting signs of a life. A fox skulked away from us in the forest. We saw only his outline as he retreated up the canyon. A bit later I got a good closeup of a gecko stalking a Daddy Longlegs. Later when reviewing pictures on the computer I was surprised to see how scaly the gecko’s skin appears up-close. (Click on the photo to get a better look.)

Signs of humans were there too. There’s a lot of unauthorized border crossing around the Huachucas, as there is along most of Arizona’s border. Some are coming here to illegally immigrate, others are “mules” carrying marijuana. However, it would be a foolish “mule” who would choose this route, leading down a steep canyon and ending up directly in a US military base.

Apparently a few have tried. We spotted their tell-tale signs: an abandoned pack of caffeine tablets, empty plastic water bottles, an old blanket dropped in the leaves. If this were a popular route we would have seen literally tons of trash, but the very few bits we saw suggest that the drug smugglers have figured out that hiking into Ft Huachuca is extremely stupid — or perhaps ecologically minded birders are cleaning up the trash as they find it.

ft-huachuca-aerostat.jpgFt Huachuca’s “eye in the sky” keeps a lookout for border crossers too, at least the airborne variety. A huge radar-carrying aerostat has been floating here since 1987. It has been a constant presence over our heads for the past couple of days as we’ve hiked and driven around the Huachuca Mountains. On the drive through the base to Garden Canyon you’ll pass right by the turnoff to the aerostat site.

Tomorrow we’ve got to head back to Tucson. Appointments are pressing on Friday, and all of next week. Emma will resume karate for another week (yes, we bought more lessons, since Eleanor was able to negotiate a flexible schedule with the instructor), and we have indications that we might finally get our kitchen countertops installed next week. I’m not exactly holding my breath on that, but it would be extremely helpful to the schedule if it could be done.